Business guide to Coronavirus

What to expect as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted

With confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia beginning to drop, some states and territories are starting to ease restrictions on non-essential services

But businesses shouldn’t expect an immediate return to business as usual. Rather, business owners should prepare for a phased return to operations, making sure they continue to comply with existing restrictions while also taking the first steps towards a return to normal. 

What restrictions are likely to be lifted?

This is a difficult question to answer and one that governments will likely reassess on a week-to-week basis. New COVID-19 cases in Australia have eased since peaking in late March, however governments are likely to continue to tread carefully to ensure lifting restrictions doesn’t create a new spike in community transmissions. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that all federal restrictions will remain in place until at least May 11 2020. However, some states have indicated they may begin to lift restrictions a little sooner.

Queenslanders may be able to engage in some non-essential retail shopping from May 2, and Western Australia has been allowing non-work gatherings of up to 10 people since April 27. Victoria’s state of emergency is scheduled to end on May 11, however, the state government has said it will wait until that date to reassess which, if any, restrictions will be lifted. In New South Wales, social distancing restrictions will be eased to allow two adults to visit another household from May 1.

What is the road ahead for businesses?

The uncertainty and variance among states makes it very difficult for non-essential businesses to put any concrete reopening plans in place. It’s also important to consider if it’s possible any lifted restrictions could be re-imposed if new COVID-19 cases increase. 

That said, there are some things you can start thinking about now to prepare for a phased return to work.

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As COVID-19 restrictions are eased and employees around the country return to work, businesses continue to play a vital role in keeping the pandemic under control. Part of that is creating a COVIDSafe plan for your business.

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1. Redesign your customer experience

Bricks-and-mortar retailers and hospitality operators may need to deal with extended social distancing measures, even when customers are allowed to return to your premises. Food businesses, for example, may need to consider redesigning the restaurant’s layout to allow for limited personal contact near takeaway counters. Retailers will also need to prevent customer bottlenecks at the counter so customers can easily adhere to social distancing rules still in effect. 

2. Rethink your payment methods

Restrictions around physical contact may be among the last to be lifted. So, receiving cash from customers and handling change will need to be re-thought. Where possible, consider using payment systems that don’t require contact such as tap-and-go card readers, in-store QR payment codes customers can scan without going to the counter, and online prepayment wherever possible. 

3. Know your numbers

Hairdressers and barber shops are currently allowed to operate as long as they adhere to one customer per four square metres. It’s possible that entertainment, hospitality and arts venues may reopen under the same customer restrictions. Knowing how you’ll track and possibly restrict entry into your venue could help you prepare for a phased reopening. 

4. Plan for a slow start

Be prepared that other businesses and suppliers may be slow to adjust to changing restrictions. That could be due to some restrictions limiting certain trades, or it could be that customers may be apprehensive to return even when all restrictions are lifted. It could be beneficial to keep costs down during times of reduced trade, so roster carefully to avoid over-staffing shifts. 

What’s clear is that the road ahead for business still looks uncertain. As restrictions are inevitably lifted, business owners will need to manage their expectations, ensure they can accommodate any upheld restrictions, and control costs as we begin the slow roll-back to business as usual. 

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